What are your tricks to start a conversation with a stranger? originally appeared on Quora– the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
When I was in middle school, I had a bowl cut, braces and thick glasses. I wasn’t exactly Prom King material to most people.
This led to me being very shy. It wasn’t easy for me to start a conversation with someone new.
As I got older, I began to become less shy. Things really turned around for me in a place I’d never expect: a call center.
One of my first jobs in college was to do fundraising for UCLA at their call center. My job was to dial strangers (even though they were alumni I had never met them before) and to ask them to donate to the school. It was pretty nerve racking at first.
But over time it got easier. And now I feel like I can start a conversation with almost anyone.
For context, on a typical day, it’s very common for me to talk to at least 3 new people that I’ve never met before. On a really busy day, it’s possible that I’ll strike up a conversation with up to 100 people (at events and conferences).
Here are my top 8 tips on how to start a conversation with someone new:
1. Find your champion – A champion is a friend you meet other new people with. This friend will introduce you to the group and talk about who you are and your accomplishments. Usually, after their introduction, people will respond with follow up questions or comments based on that information. It’s a really great way to kick off a conversation. Just remember to do the same for your friend. Teamwork makes the dream work.
2. It’s not about you – Ask them questions about their lives. Listen carefully to what they say. Keep good eye contact (without staring at them non stop). Focus on them. Give them their time to shine. Most people love talking about themselves. Who doesn’t love to feel important for a moment?
3. Stop caring so much – Here’s the truth: some people will love you and some won’t care about you at all. Don’t get so wrapped up in the outcome. A lot of people worry about what will happen if the conversation doesn’t go well and that prevents them from starting the conversation in the first place. Let go of that fear. If you don’t try, you’ll never know anyway. Stop worrying so much about hypothetical outcomes. If you want to worry, worry about the missed opportunities so that it drives you to take massive action!
4. Realize you don’t need to be perfect – Can’t think of something interesting to say? Just keep it simple. Just start by saying “hello” and let the moment take you from there. I did this in Spain at a conference party and met my previous girlfriend this way.
5. Dance like no one’s watching – Wait, what? What does dancing have to do with talking to new people? It has everything to do with talking to new people. Put on your favorite song (for example: Uptown Funk is one of my favorites) and start dancing and having fun. The surge of positive energy you’ll feel will help carry over into your conversations. You’ll feel more carefree and lively. Seriously, try it. At worst, you’ll burn a few calories and get to hear a great song!
6. Comment on an observation – Take a look around you. What does your surrounding environment look like? Is there anything interesting happening? For example, if someone is reading a book, you could ask, “What do you think of that book?” Or if there’s a speaker on stage, you could ask, “How do you like the speaker so far?” This often naturally leads to a very easy conversation because it gives you a substantial common experience to talk about with the other person. If you see someone with a tattoo, you could ask, “What does that tattoo mean?” I’ve actually used all three of these questions and it’s helped me make three new friends. Lastly, when you do ask a question, just make sure you do the following…
7. Be genuinely curious – Ask questions with genuine curiosity. Your authenticity will shine through. The last thing you want to do is to come off contrived.
8. Learn to persevere – Maybe your first 10 conversations will fail miserably. That’s okay, you’re not perfect. No one is. The key is to keep pushing forward and improving every single day. Don’t believe me? Remember how I was the shy kid with the bowl cut and braces in middle school? By the end of high school, I was the President of the Speech and Debate club, had gotten accepted into UCLA and starred in the biggest theatrical show of the year.
Oh, and I became prom king that year. Folks, anything is possible. Dream big.